Thursday, January 28, 2016

What Cosplay Means to Me - Debunking the Myth of the "Professional Cosplayer"

To preface this: some of my fellow Canadian cosplayers were recently discussing fame in cosplay/what it means to cosplay. I thought I would take a moment to do something a little different than my usual content and write an article on my thoughts on this. 

In recent years, I have noticed a huge generational gap in the mindset of cosplayers--people like myself: who have been cosplaying for 10+ years, versus the younger generation who only started cosplaying in the last 5 years.

Those who started out 10+ years ago remember a time before the hobby was considered "mainstream" or "cool". A time before wigs of any colour were available for purchase. When Facebook fan pages hadn't been invented yet. In a time where you had to use your ingenuity to make cardboard and thrift store clothes into a costume, using hot glue, duct tape and spit to hold it together. (Although some of us still do that!) The idea that anyone could turn this crazy hobby into a job was laughable.

In contrast, the new cosplayers see the "idols" who have rocketed to internet fame, and they think that's the essence of what it means to be a cosplayer. The idea is that being a cosplayer = being popular online. So many young cosplayers become discouraged from the hobby because of a lack of facebook fans, or because they are not one of the "pretty cosplayers"/"sexy cosplayers". It saddens me, because they are great cosplayers, but their confidence is shattered because they hang their hopes on being a shining star. Only to realize that there are a bajillion stars in outer space and it's impossible to outshine them all.

My generation didn't have this pressure to "succeed".

Really, the notion of becoming a "Professional Cosplayer" is absurd. The reality is that there are tens of thousands of people who cosplay and only a handful of people who could possibly make a living off of it. And even those who one would consider to be a "Pro" most often have day jobs so that they can support themselves. Being a cosplayer will typically not earn you a living wage. For 99.9% of cosplayers this is a hobby. A very extravagant and expensive hobby, but a hobby nonetheless.

Let me take a moment to say to those lucky few who have made this into a working lifestyle, by no means do I think they are untalented people/undeserving of fame--quite the opposite! The handful of pros have a combination of some really great costumes and extraordinary good luck.

Obviously we cosplayers wear our costumes to events to share our creations with other like-minded individuals; people who appreciate the character, series or even simply the craftsmanship of the costume itself. This is why I enjoy the Masquerade events so much. Because it is a showcase of the effort and hard work that people put into their costumes, celebrating their fandoms and throwing together a great show to boot. But even more than the show itself, I love to be backstage, so I can ask my fellow cosplayers the secret to how they made their own wicked costumes!

That is why I continue to write my process blog, describing in detail how I make things--I want to share the things I learned making each costume with those who care to read--whether there are 5 people or 200 who are interested. The reason I made a facebook page was not so that I could count my fans, but so I could post more process pics of my cosplay projects without feeling guilty for spamming all my friends who would rather not have a billion pictures of mine clogging up their newsfeed.

For me cosplay holds a very dear place in my heart. In the past, I was very shy and socially awkward, with lots of self-confidence issues. Dressing up as someone else for the day--a character that I idolized or admired--made a huge difference for teenage me. It was a chance to be someone else. Because in real life (elementary school/high school) I was not popular or cool. I have never considered myself one of the "pretty"/"sexy" cosplayers. Heck, I didn't even start wearing makeup until I was 17! (Nobody got time for that!)

My original reason to cosplay was to celebrate the fandoms/characters I loved. It was a fun thing I did with my sister. We would go to cons and show off our costumes. Having your picture taken was flattering! People who loved and recognized the character you were wanted your picture, because they were excited about the character/series as you were! (I remember bringing my very first digital camera with me to cons!) The Toronto cosplay community was so supportive and I loved the atmosphere of conventions. It was great to hang out with people who liked the same things I did. My experience with cosplay and conventions as a teen was very positive, and ultimately helped to boost my confidence as a person.

Time went on and I became less interested in anime, though still an active gamer and lover of the sci-fi and fantasy genres. I no longer cosplay from the current mainstream anime series. Instead of cosplaying because I love anime, I cosplay because I developed a love for the craft itself. Now I cosplay because I enjoy the exciting process of building and creating costumes with my own hands. I love bringing the characters to life and relish the challenge of making something complex. This is why I decided to pursue costuming for theatre/film as a career, because I realized that is what I love to do more than anything.

I wish sometimes that I could convey this passion to the younger generation. That cosplay is not about becoming famous, it is about your showing your passion for something that you love. You should always love what you do! Cosplay is meant to be fun. If you are not getting enjoyment out of cosplay then what is your reason to cosplay?

I hardly think we should discourage the younger generation from cosplaying--quite the opposite!--but I think we all need a reminder on what cosplaying should be about: A celebration of fandom! Whether you buy or build your costumes, no matter your skin colour, race or religion, no matter your size, if you love the fandom, or simply love the design; your reason to cosplay should ultimately be because you enjoy it!

Ultimately, no one can tell you what your reason is to cosplay. Your reason to cosplay may evolve over time like mine did! There is no single "correct" reason to cosplay--simply, if your only reason to cosplay is to be famous, you may end up disappointed.